To the Letter
I was very pleased to read the article Industry Culture Shift Regarding Aircraft Wiring Badly Needed, by Wilfrid Côté, in ASL 3/2005. I feel the same way about it, and Mr. Côté clearly expressed the urgent need for such a culture shift regarding aircraft wiring installation, repair and maintenance. In 1983, a fire in the aft lavatory of a DC-9 resulted in the deaths of 23 people, after which the operator made a serious effort for a company culture shift about aircraft wiring. As an avionics on-the-job-training (OJT) instructor with that operator at the time, I was tasked to develop a one-day awareness/refresher course that became mandatory to all avionics personnel at all levels within the operation. It also included a practical test for the technicians. Currently, as the training program manager with another employer, I have developed a 5-day practical aircraft-wiring course aimed at General Aviation Line-Maintenance Technicians [airframe and powerplant (A&P), aircraft maintenance engineer-maintenance (AME-M), as well as Avionics, aircraft maintenance engineer-electronics (AME-E)].This course will contribute greatly to making that culture shift. The aircraft wiring class is very interactive with 60 percent hands-on, and includes case studies of major accidents involving aircraft wiring. Operators, maintenance organizations and individual AMEs may want to know that such courses are available.
Theo Dufresne, AME-E
I am writing in response to the article by Michel Treskin on the back page of the Aviation Safety Letter 3/2005. I am as displeased as he is about the lack of airmanship displayed at this particular event he attended. I have been flying since 1972 throughout North America and the Caribbean as a private pilot for business and pleasure. I fly a warbird now, mostly for pleasure out of Oliver, B.C. I attended four interior fly-ins/air pageants and one on the coast this year, and I am pleased to say that I did not encounter what Mr. Treskin did-quite the opposite. Most pilots that I observed did complete a walk around and all but possibly one performed a systems check/run-up prior to takeoff. I only hope that what he encountered was not systemic to eastern Canada, but it certainly was not the case here in the west.
Thank you for writing. My understanding is that the majority of pilots at fly-ins do exercise superior airmanship, across the country. Nevertheless, I believe the article will raise the awareness level even more. -Ed.
A few months ago, I flew my Turbo Skylane from Saskatoon, Sask., to our home base in Burlington, Ont., with a stop in Fort Frances, Ont. Even though the weather was quite good, I filed IFR as I always do. Fort Frances is an uncontrolled airport and its airspace is served by Minneapolis Center. I left after a quick turnaround; my IFR flight plan had already been filed before our departure from Saskatoon. Airborne, I contacted Minneapolis Center and found out that my flight plan was not on file. The controller suggested I contact both the American and the Canadian flight service stations (FSS), which I did. Neither was able to let me air-file; the Americans were too busy, and the Canadians told me it had to be filed with the American FSS. In the end, the very helpful Minneapolis Center controller gave me a clearance, without a flight plan, to go directly home. By then, I had flown more than 40 NM. The weather was VFR under a broken 5 000-ft ceiling, so that was not a problem, but what if the weather had been much worse, albeit not bad enough to get the IFR clearance on the ground?
Exactly that happened to me just recently on a flight from St. John's, N.L., to Burlington. We had a stopover in Fredericton, N.B., and continued home. Over the whole Toronto, Ont., area was a long line of severe thunderstorms, so we decided to land at Peterborough, Ont., just east of Toronto, and wait the storms out. After just 1.5 hr, all the bad weather had passed, and a call to London FSS confirmed that there was no convective activity or precipitation between us and our final destination; Burlington. I filed IFR Peterborough to Burlington with the briefer.
When we had landed in Peterborough with an IFR approach, we had talked to Toronto Centre on 134.25 MHz and had cancelled IFR on the ground with that frequency. So, after the run-up, I called 134.25 MHz-nothing. I tried several times without luck. However, the weather looked really VFR; I could see far and the clouds looked high. So I decided to depart VFR and get the IFR clearance once I was airborne. I tried and tried the Centre frequency-nothing again. Also, I tried and could hear Toronto Terminal on 133.4 MHz, but the controller couldn't hear me (I was probably too low). After a couple of minutes of flight, I realized that a continued VFR flight was impossible because of some low stratus clouds that still lingered in the area, combined with not more than 2 mi. visibility. I tried my best to stay VFR, but it was very marginal. Finally, I contacted Oshawa Tower, and within one minute had my IFR clearance. Climbing through the cloud layer, I was able to talk to Toronto Terminal and found out that the Centre frequency 134.25 MHz had been knocked out by a violent thunderstorm!
This situation was probably not dangerous, but could have been if I had not been able to remain VFR, or if I had been forced to fly very low under the clouds in low visibility. The lesson learned is this-if there is even the slightest doubt about continued visual meteorological conditions (VMC) for quite some time after departure from an uncontrolled airport, get your IFR clearance on the ground by calling FSS on the phone!
Gerd Wengler, airline transport pilot licence (ATPL)
My friend (also a pilot) and I were to take a VFR flight in a Piper Archer from Maroochy [in Queensland, Australia] to Kingaroy-a distance of 67 NM directly west through mountainous terrain. We got airborne at 2 p.m. for the 45-min flight. There were lots of bushfires in the area, and although we could see the ground at all times, the forward visibility was limited, there was some turbulence and we had about a 15-kt headwind. Nevertheless, we landed at Kingaroy on schedule and secured the aircraft.
The return trip two days later was a bit more problematic. The meteorological report showed broken cloud at 2 000 ft at our destination, and some cloud en route through the mountains, with a small tailwind. We had just made arrangements to leave the aircraft at Kingaroy and drive back, when a friend who had just flown from Kingaroy to the Sunshine Coast in a Lancair, reported after he landed that everything was clear to the coast, and the clouds were 1 000 ft above the mountain peaks. I was still unhappy about making the flight, but my co-pilot said she was reassured by this, and said she would fly and I could navigate and do the radio work. Since she was a former commercial pilot and had many more hours than I did, I agreed to this. I also phoned a flying school at Maroochy and checked that conditions were clear.
By then my daughter was at the airstrip with her car, ready to drive us home, but we filed a flight plan, taxied out and took off happily. We left about one hour after the Lancair pilot. We could see the mountain ranges in the distance and more mountain ranges beyond this. Cloud was about 4000 ft so we flew at 3 500 ft. Soon though, the cloud base started coming down and we had to descend. The pilot asked, "Are you happy with this?" and my answer was slow in coming because I was filled with unease. In the minute or so of indecisiveness, we had entered IMC [instrument meteorological conditions]. Now, I have heard the advice of doing a 180° turn and exiting the danger, but we now had cloud and mountains all around us, so it was not as simple as it sounded. I think a 180° turn at low level would have been disastrous.
Both the pilot and I had NVFR [night visual flight rules] ratings that were not recent and had a little instrument training. The highest peaks on the WAC [world aeronautical chart] were at 2 985 ft and we were at 3 000 ft. In addition, we had turned a bit south to fly down a valley to lower ground, so we were unsure of our position, and we were flying in a total whiteout that completely enveloped us.
Being a "junior" pilot, I tentatively said, "I would climb to 3 500 ft and hold the heading and altitude."The pilot replied. "I can't climb into cloud, I'm not an instrument pilot." But then she put the aircraft into a climb and said, "OK, I can do this, but I need you to help me. Tell me whenever the wings are not level or I start to descend. Contact Maroochy Tower and find out what the weather is like there. You'll have to declare an emergency if we're going to get through this."
We were about 20 min into a 40-min flight. The weather was clear at Maroochy, but we were still in trouble; unsure of our position and in a total whiteout. The GPS was telling me we were 4 NM from the airstrip. I guess I didn't do the "logic" check on that one either.
I called Maroochy Tower and explained that I thought we were over the airstrip, had no clearance but were in IMC at 3 500 ft. The tower controller was very calm and asked us to squawk 0100 on the transponder. Apparently, we were not visible on his radar, but Brisbane had us at 10 NM north of Kilcoy, which is about 30 NM southwest of Maroochy. We were told the lowest safe altitude was 4 200 ft and if we were able, we should climb to 4 500 ft and take up a heading of 060. All this time, I was doing the radio calls and keeping an eye on the instruments, signalling when wings were not level, or when we were descending. I remember saying, "We're past the mountains, we have 10 min of flying before we're visual; nothing can hurt us now." I did not like to think of engine failure, radio failure or electrics failure, all of which would have meant certain death. At least I knew we had enough fuel. Our composed controller kept in touch, "You are 6 min from Maroochy airstrip, we should have you visual fairly soon." His voice sounded like God himself.
It seemed like hours went by, but in fact we were in IMC for about 30 min. When we were at Nambour, we were instructed to begin a descent to 3 000 ft. My pilot was as reluctant to descend as she was to climb into cloud. We popped out of cloud and saw the familiar Maroochy River and coastline. I radioed to the tower, "We are visual, we're just going coastal to orient ourselves and settle down."We turned on a left downwind to Runway 36 (with a 15-kt crosswind), made a beautiful landing, and taxied around to the Maroochy Aero Club. The fireies [firefighters] had been listening and came over to welcome us back. The instructor who had checked us out came over to help us open the doors and hangar the aircraft. The controller who had talked us in phoned and joined us at the bar after his shift.
We were amazed to learn that Brisbane and Canberra had been notified, and that commercial aircraft flying above us had offered to help. The controller had cleared our radio frequency and said that many people were happy to hear we were back safely. He told us that the average life span of a VFR pilot who inadvertently enters IMC was less than 3 min.
In retrospect, several mistakes were made. We assumed that the clag in front of us was smoke, as it had been on the trip up, and that it would clear. We placed some reliance on the report of the aircraft that had flown the route less than an hour before, and reported clear conditions. We were reluctant to advise anyone we were in trouble. The GPS was malfunctioning. What saved our lives (besides the calm, cool and collected controller), I think, was the little bit of instrument training we both had. I can recall my instructor saying, "If you get yourself into IMC, climb to lowest safe, keep the wings level, maintain your heading and altitude, and tell someone you're in trouble." Having two pilots in the aircraft, leaving one to concentrate on instrument flying and the other to do the necessary radio work, was a plus. We could easily have been a statistic "Two fatalities: controlled flight into terrain, VFR flight into IMC."
The controller did not bother us with unnecessary requests as to fuel status or ratings. I learned later he had phoned the flying school to inquire if I had an instrument rating. His calm instructions were a major influence on the successful completion of the flight. Thank God that we had an experienced air traffic controller manning the Maroochy Tower at 4 p.m. on a Sunday. And just thank God.
Lessons learned: Don't panic. Keep an accurate time and distance check. Your GPS may be wrong. Don't rely solely on other pilots giving you information. Work together in the cockpit. Don't be afraid to speak up-it might save your life! Also don't be afraid to let ATC know you are in over your head. They are there to help. Clearly with pilots in danger of imminent death, this qualifies as a "Mayday" emergency. (From the French M'aidez: "Help me."). I am sure pilots have died because of reluctance to ask for help. This is what you say: "Mayday (three times), [your aircraft's call sign] (three times), I am a visual pilot. I am in IMC and I am unsure of my position." Give your altitude, approximate position, heading and how many persons on board. Say clearly, "I need help" and switch the transponder to 7700.
Dr. Heather Parker